When you think of a microbrewery you think of the knowledge that the brewmaster has about the unique beers that he or she brews - the care that goes into choosing the types of grains, hops, sugars and yeasts that are used for each beer. A pilsner, ale, stout or lager each have different ingredients and each has a unique process that the brewmaster has developed over years of personal experience. The long fermentation that allows the yeast to pull the flavors out of the grain. The combination of grains and the different types of hops. This knowledge makes each brewmaster a specialist of the craft.
The artisan baker, like the brewmaster, takes great care in choosing the types of grains, sugars, and yeast that are used for each artisan bread. Keeping starters going for years, that pull the wild yeast out of the air to create regional sourdoughs. Blending together starters with poolishes to create complex French and Italian. Developing wheat starters and poolishes to coax the flavor out of the grain to create the artisan's unique Honey Wheat, Spent Grain, German Rye and Multigrain. Gently working the soft Ciabatta dough, that spends the night in a bath of extra virgin olive oil. The two-day process of the biga that creates the desired texture and flavor of the Neapolitan dough, for hand tossed pizzas.
Commercial bakeries are mainly concerned with pumping out as much bread as the machinery can produce. Grocery stores buy frozen, pre-shaped, dough that they then thaw and bake. (Baked fresh daily and made fresh daily are not the same!) For the artisan baker, the combinations of starters, poolishes and pates can cause a batch of bread to take anywhere from 12 to 48 hours. To the artisan baker it's not about pumping out as much bread as is possible, it about creating the best bread he or she can bake and then trying to make it even better the next time. Each loaf is shaped by hand and baked with care. Some breads are steamed while others are bathed in buttermilk. Each bread is given it own unique look to compliment its unique taste.
If you can't meet the artisan baker, it is not artisan bread.
Many chain grocery stores and chain bakeries use the term "Artisan" to describe their bread. That would be like a large commercial brewery claiming to make "Microbrewery Style" beer. The consumer would know better when it comes to beer. It's big business trying to tap into the microbrewery market. There are 1,505 microbreweries in the United States. There are 20 corporate brewers in the United States. How does this compare to the artisan bakery? There are 2,250 artisan bakeries in the United States, 10,355 wholesale bakeries producing bread and other bakery products and 7,470 retail bakeries. There is no confusion when it comes to microbrewed beer, but the 2,250 artisan bakeries have a lot of competition and that competition uses the term "Artisan" when there truly isn't anything "Artisan" about their bread. Sourdough flavoring does not make a sourdough bread. And, sourdough bread only has 3 ingredients - flour, water, and salt. So, the next time you are in the grocery store and pick up that beautiful loaf of "Artisan Style" bread with it's 20 or so, unpronounceable ingredients and tell yourself that there isn't much difference between bread, ask yourself, WHO made this? WHY does this bread have those extra ingredients, that it doesn't need? WHERE is the corporation that is profiting from your purchase of that lovely faux Artisan Style bread. HOW hard would it be to stop at the Creative Crust and pick up some real Artisan Bread? AND while you're at the Crust, you could pick up a few sweet treats for dessert. All made by a family that cares about its creations and actually bakes - For Meadville.